Female directors and actors reigned supreme at tonight’s San Sebastian Film Festival awards ceremony, with the Romanian actor-turned-director Alina Grigore taking the Golden Shell for Best Film for her intimate debut feature “Blue Moon.” The film, a raw realist study of a young woman attempting to free herself from an abusive rural household, was an unexpected winner, besting a number of higher-profile auteur films in the festival’s main competition. Yet a full spectrum was covered: At the opposite end of the celebrity scale, Jessica Chastain was one of two Best Leading Performance winners for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”
This was the second year in a row that a first-time female filmmaker took the festival’s top prize. Last year, Georgian writer-director Dea Kulumbegashvili swept the board for her debut “Beginning,” which won the Golden Shell in addition to Best Director, Actress and Screenplay. Kulumbegashvili returned to the festival as the head of this year’s predominantly female female jury — which also included French director and recent Venice Golden Lion champ Audrey Diwan, Oscar-nominated Chilean docmaker Maite Alberdi, Spanish actor Susi Sanchez and U.S. producer Ted Hope.
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Kulumbegashvili’s jury was more inclined to spread the wealth than last year’s, even awarding a tie for one of the festival’s newly gender-neutral acting prizes. Chastain was present to accept her half of the leading award for her committed star turn as controversial televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in Michael Showalter’s biopic, getting her projected Best Actress Oscar campaign off to a strong start. She shared the honor with overwhelmed Danish teen Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl for the shattering family drama “As In Heaven,” which also won the Best Director award for Tea Lindeburg — another freshman female filmmaker.
On stage, Chastain professed herself thrilled to be sharing the festival’s first non-gendered acting award with another female performer. “What a year to celebrate two female performances, it blows my mind,” she said, before going on to pay tribute to Bakker herself: “I was so blown away by her compassion and her love and what she stood for, her allyship with the LGBTQ community,” she said, before describing the film as “a reminder to look beyond our first impressions, and beyond the mascara.”
Completing a female stronghold on the top competition prizes, avant-garde French-Bosnian director Lucile Hadžihalilović took the runner-up Special Jury Prize for her third feature, the darkly surreal adult fairytale “Earwig.” (Her longtime collaborator and husband Gaspar Noé, meanwhile, took the top prize in the festival’s more experimentally oriented Zabaltegi-Tabakalera sidebar, for his harrowing dementia study “Vortex.”)
With French DP Claire Mathon taking the cinematography prize for the state-corruption thriller “Undercover,” and the supporting acting award going collectively to the vast youth ensemble of Spanish entry “Who’s Stopping Us,” the only man to take a competition prize outright was veteran British director Terence Davies, a deserving Best Screenplay winner for his suitably poetic Siegfried Sassoon biopic “Benediction.”
In the festival’s other competitive sidebars, the female dominance continued. In the New Directors section — somewhat overshadowed by the dominance of first features in the top contest — Russian newcomer Lena Lanskih won for her somber teen motherhood study “Unwanted.” And Mexican director Tatiana Huezo was a triple winner, emerging victorious in the festival’s Latin Horizons competition — and also scooping the Spanish Cooperation Award and the TVE Another Look Award — for “Prayers for the Stolen.”
Huezo, who rose to prominence with her documentaries, was visibly moved by the recognition for her first fiction feature, a coming-of-age story centered on a group of young women in a rural Mexican community regularly terrorised by cartel raids. Huezo’s doc “Tempestad” was Mexico’s international Oscar submission a few years ago; with tonight’s haul following a strong Cannes reception, her latest has to be considered a strong possibility to be this year’s candidate.
Finally, both the festival’s public-voted prizes went to French productions. Céline Sciamma took the main Audience Award for her delicate heartbreaker “Petite Maman,” a small but perfectly formed dual study of motherhood and early childhood that has been an international critics’ favorite since its Berlinale premiere in February. (It’s also shot, as it happens, by tonight’s cinematography winner Mathon.) Emmanuel Carrère’s Juliette Binoche starrer “Between Two Worlds” took a separate Audience Award for Best European Film — a somewhat confusing distinction this year, though perhaps male directors were due some kind of consolation prize.
OFFICIAL SELECTION PRIZES
Golden Shell for Best Film: “Blue Moon,” Aline Grigore
Special Jury Prize: “Earwig,” Lucile Hadžihalilović
Silver Shell for Best Director: “As in Heaven,” Tea Lindeburg
Silver Shell for Best Leading Performance (tied): “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Jessica Chastain; “As in Heaven,” Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl
Silver Shell for Best Supporting Performance: “Who’s Stopping Us,” the ensemble
Best Screenplay: “Benediction,” Terence Davies
Best Cinematography: “Undercover,” Claire Mathon
New Directors’ Award: “Unwanted,” Lena Lanskih
New Directors’ Award (Special Mention): “Carajita,” Silvina Schnicer, Ulises Porra
Horizontes Latinos Award: “Prayers for the Stolen,” Tatiana Huezo
San Sebastian Audience Award: “Petite Maman,” Céline Sciamma
Audience Award for Best European Film: “Between Two Worlds,” Emmanuel Carrère
Zabaltegi-Tabakalera Award: “Vortex,” Gaspar Noé
Zabaltegi-Tabakalera Award (Special Mention): “They Carry Death,” Helena Girón, Samuel M. Delgado
TVE Another Look Award: Prayers for the Stolen,” Tatiana Huezo
Spanish Cooperation Award: “Prayers for the Stolen,” Tatiana Huezo
Irizar Basque Film Award: “Maixabel,” Iciar Bollain
Irizar Basque Film Award (Special Mention): “Kuartk Valley,” Maider Oleaga
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